Kachina Peaks

Kachina Peaks

The sun rises early in Arizona. They do not participate in Daylight Savings. So by the time I crawled out from under my sleeping quilt, it was already in full daylight.

I slept with the gate to my Element wide open, and though my face and hands were cold, it was otherwise far to comfortable to be called camping. I crawled out from the back of Gershwin and proceeded to make a press of coffee.

Those folks whom I knew only by their respective glowing campsites came into focus. Everything was calm today. I wandered out passed them to the Cinder Hills Motor Trails. It was a black sand beach with scattered pine trees. 

Coffee. Yoga. Resistance band work. Quiet sitting. I unpacked everything from Gershwin, repacked it while taking notes about things I'd like to improve moving forward. Most notable amongst them is a better way to deal with running clothes.

I zoomed into town and spend the bulk of the day working and drinking coffee around downtown Flagstaff. Last time through town I only had an afternoon, but I knew that I would love to spend more time here. In that vein, I tried to make a point of generating as many new experiences as I could this trip. To accelerate my familiarity with the town if you like.

I stopped into the downtown "late for the train" café to what appeared to be an over-the-top friendly barista schtick but quickly resolved itself into a series of very genuine interactions. Zack, the "mascot" of the place, took kindly one me when I told him I was living out of my Element. That guy knows good things.

After a bit more work I pushed out for the main event of the day: a trip out to the Arizona Snowbowl.

The trip to the parking lot was only twelve or so miles out of town, but we gained about two thousand feet of elevation. 

There were a host of vague but insistent signs that warned people off from attempting any excursion "outside the ski boundary" without a permit. Only, there was minimal snow and permits were only issues on weekend mornings.

After much equivacating, I ran downhill for a lap around the Aspen Loop. That trail links to wonderful meadows and the Arizona Trail. After the loop I returned to the parking lot, picked up my inhaler and started goofing around on side trails, trying to access the main Humphreys' Peak trail without crossing any crossly worded signs.

With moderate success I landed on a muddy, hay-covered track downhill from a melted out, artificially generated snow slope. Not wanting to deal with that much mud, I turned around, and ran bit on that melted out snow track. Near the original warning sign I saw a huge, mud-filled post hole that could easily eat my leg up to my hip. I dodged, jumped, and the entire artificial snowbank snapped under the weight of my landing.

This was not a way to go.

Instead, I followed a dirt road down to the lowest ski lift station on the mountain. Around that and up underneath the life line wasn't great trail, but it was dry. The elevation presented itself to my lungs as I finally made it up the grassy slope and up on to the main trail. Finally!

More signs. More warnings about avalanches and ski boundaries that just didn't seem relevant for a 72F day. Not knowing what to expected, I put some music on speaker and ran into the forest.

The most exciting bit of this run for me was the observation that, so long as I took occasional pauses to walk, running without acclimating above 9000 feet felt both comfortable and natural. This observation has calmed a lot of my Hardrock nerves.

Within a mile or so on trail, I ran into a couple that advised me to bring microspikes to the summit. Having left them in my roof box, I decided to go up until I feel three times or three vertical feet due to ice.

I signed the Kachina Peaks Wilderness register, noted that I was the only registered person left on the mountain - a fact which aligned with the dearth of cars in the parking lot - and proceeded up along the trail anyway.

The trail still had very hard-packed icy patches, but the one that did me in came just below 9900 feet.  The trail dropped into a little drainage for a few dozen yards, and I dropped in too.

Having met my quota for falling, I promptly turned around, relieved, and headed back down the trail to my car. I waved at one of the hikers I had seen earlier, whom I had parked next to, and ran back down towards the Arizona trail.

The sun was high enough for at least another hour of running, so I took off down the Aspen loop and north along the Arizona Trail. The yellow grass and scattered stands of pine were reminiscent of Montana, but there was definitely something distinctive about being up on this volcano.

Within a mile, I stopped. Less than 100 yards from me was a large Coyote. He was still puffed out in his winder coat, and we exchanged a stare for a while. I blinked first, moving to take a photo. He quickly turned tail and was gone. 

Out of exhilaration (I always get excited around Coyotes), I turned and ran south down the AZT, passed the loop trail and into the meadows further downhill. 

There was no wind. The air was warm. The sun was still hanging in the air, although it's low position cast long shadows that my mind really wanted to become concerned about.

I had a short conversations with a mountain biker before running back up for another lap around the Aspen Loop.

I was prescibed eight miles of running with a few easy strides. Having made the 8 miles, I ran the sprints in the still empty parking lot as the sun set over the volcanic terrain. 

One thing that surprised me about that run was how quickly and frequently I became hungry. I tried to fend off my stomach with a few GU packets, but they wouldn't last more than a mile or so. Perhaps the altitude had something to do with it?

In any case, the pangs stopped as soon as I stopped running, so I drove back into Flagstaff deliberately and landed a reasonable bear and burger pair at The McMillan. From there, I hopped in my car and took off down Route 66.

Elevation 6000. Elevation 5000. Elevation 4000. Elevation 4000. Elevation 3000. Elevation 2000. As I sit here in my fancy conference hotel room at 1000 ft above sea level, it's shocking to me how quickly I came down from almost 10,000 ft earlier this evening.

The luxury of being able to breathe tonight will not be joining me in Silverton this summer, that's for dam